How to Understand Emotional Eating to Stop It Forever
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Not many people know this about me, but I was married before. Like a million years ago, and it was short-lived. 6 months to be exact. The whole story is full of drama, deceit, and lots of tears. But food also became a factor. For me I mean…to help me cope. At the time I had no clue there was a thing called ’emotional eating’. But now with my 20/20 hindsight, as it always works out, I totally see it all.
It started out as not eating at all, because my stomach was always in knots and it was last thing on my mind. But as I began to try getting my life back together, and moved back in with my Dad, cooked food was available all the time. So I ate to feel better and have some energy to do things again, and go places. And once I gained about 20 lbs back, I never thought twice that it was an unhealthy 20 lbs. After all, everyone was just happy I was eating again. But it taught me something pretty harmful when it comes to health and healthy weight.
And that’s the thing with emotional eating. It can go unnoticed because it’s not widely thought of as dangerous compared to life threatening habits such as illegal drug use. And many of us in the moment say we can simply “exercise more later.”
Once I began my education in Nutrition and became a Certified Health and Wellness Coach, I discovered that’s not the case. When trying to lose weight, 80% of the effort falls onto what you eat, and the other 20% is working out.
So what the heck is emotional eating?
Well, emotional eating is the practice of managing one’s emotions by eating food. Here are some things that can help you figure out how to identify emotional eating, its effects, and a handful of tips on what you can do to stop it.
Causes of emotional eating:
Major changes in circumstances, relationships, work dynamics, daily stress, and general feelings of a loss of control can be major factors. For example, a recent break up could drive a person to emotional eating. (Hence, my issue after my divorce.) A sudden change in the demeanor of a formally cordial coworker could leave you feeling alienated, or the daily ebb and flow of life’s daily activities could put you in mood where food is thought of as a reward, a way to relieve stress, or way to avoid dealing with emotions surrounding a situation. This tends to be especially true for people who are naturally anxious.
It is an Unhealthy Way to Cope with Emotions
Emotional eating is often used as a way to avoid dealing with complex emotions. Not every trigger will be the same for each person, but these could include a range of emotions and feelings including anxiety, boredom, loneliness, disgust, sadness, and even joy.
The emotional danger is the continued neglect of the real reasons behind these emotions. A feeling of shame or guilt might follow binges. This is especially true when the behavior is hidden from friends or family.
If a person uses eating as a way to escape or distract herself emotionally, a vicious cycle can develop. For example, someone who seeks food to cope with stress will create a paradox where weight-related health issues arise, and the chosen coping method is food.
How to tell if your eating is emotional:
There are a few differences between the type of hunger that comes from emotional needs, and that of physical needs. Physical hunger is gradual, and eating fulfills the need for nourishment. When you eat after having been physically hungry, you will most likely feel better or more energized.
When the hunger is emotional hunger, eating may not give you the feeling of being filled, which can lead to overeating. At the end of the meal, you might feel tired, or depressed.
Emotional eating usually also hits very suddenly out of nowhere and seeks out specific cravings to be filled. Often times these powerful cravings are for sugar and fat filled snacks. This is because of the powerful rush that happens right after eating it.
Seeking out comfort food or food that’s connected with positive or nostalgic feelings has been common practice for all of recorded history. I can attest to this–I’m from the South, and that’s how the generations above mine showed love and support.
Many snack foods (especially candy and baked goods) are associated with memories of fun times or loved ones. Some children develop early obesity when they learn this type of self soothing. The methods that are used to produce foods of these types typically contain high levels of salt, sugars, fats and preservative agents.
Your Emotions Drive Your Eating Habits
Mood can affect the speed, and way we eat. Do you sometimes notice that a negative situation can send you running to your car to get a comfort food? In times of intense emotional upheaval, it can easily become a habit to turn to food for emotional management. That cookie or ice cream might feel good during consumption, but it isn’t truly fixing the heart of the issue.
Many people are conditioned from a young age to associate food with some sort of reward or good times. That is part of the reason for certain restaurants to have places for children to play.
You Eat While Stressed
Another big sign of emotional eating is that you eat while stressed. Any changes in life large or small can cause a measure of stress. Deteriorating financial health is considered to be a leading cause of stress in many countries around the world, so it is possible that financial stress could lead to comfort food seeking activity.
Relationships are also a major source of stress due to the tendency for relationships to experience inevitable changes in dynamics. This could be anything from romantic relationships to work relationships. People tend to expect routine. Relationship changes can throw one or both people into a state of uncertainty.
You Keep Eating Past Being Full
One of the most serious of the signs of emotional overeating, is eating past being full. This is when the need to fill the emotional void exceeds the body’s natural feeling of fullness. It can manifest itself in joyless eating, which is eating on autopilot.
During this period you might consume empty calories so quickly that you don’t even taste the food. You may also find yourself forcing the second half of a meal you could have saved for later, or buying additional snack foods that you will be tempted to eat prematurely.
Part of the serious nature of this habit, is that it is a primary mechanism that makes weight gain and other health issues a possibility.
How emotional eating affects you:
Emotional eating has numerous health risks. It’s one of the leading causes of failed diets and weight gain. Weight gain puts a heavy strain on organs such as the heart, lungs, and liver.
But not only internal organs are at risk. A person that’s gained a substantial amount of weight also faces an increased risk of joint injuries of all types.
Emotional eating can cause devastating health problems. Beyond the difficulties surrounding obesity, these could include other health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, malnutrition, digestive problems, menstrual problems, and depression.
If you are overeating and appear to be experiencing any of these symptoms or health problems, emotional eating is likely to be a significant factor.
How to quit emotional eating:
One of the most commonly used methods of determining the source of hunger is the food test. Ask yourself if you want to eat this food, or if there is something else you can eat instead.
You can also try habit replacement. Find something positive to do when you feel stressed out.
Exercise, deep breathing, or any stress relieving hobby can go a long way to improving your control.
Tips For Putting a Stop To Emotional Eating
People often say that the first step to conquering any habit is recognizing that there is a problem, but what can you do to change or stop the behavior?
How to Find Your Triggers
Most people are well acquainted with the knowledge that overeating is unhealthy and can make you vulnerable to various complications, but where do you go to learn what causes lead to these habits?
Some foods trigger powerful cravings and memories that send a person into a state where they don’t consider what they are putting in their body.
Strong emotional, or cultural identification with specific foods can begin at an early age, so these habits can become very deeply embedded into an individual’s identity.
Marketing research companies spend billions of dollars learning how to connect the emotions of the consumer to their products, so thinking about the kinds of food you consider are very important. (Don’t believe me? Watch the documentary Food Matters.)
One extremely effective tool that you can use to help you find out what is happening with your eating habits, is to begin keeping a journal. Seeing everything you’ve eaten in black and white can be a big wake-up call. Plus it forces you to acknowledge you’re about to ingest it if you have to record it.
As you write what kind of foods you eat, make a note of how you’re feeling at the time of the craving. Strong emotions of any kind can affect how you choose to go about your eating habits during meal time. And it’s important to note that they can be both positive and negative emotions. When a person is emotionally eating, it does 2 things. It frees the mind of the burden of focusing on issues and allows for an escape.
Eating provides a pleasurable experience of being rewarded. Studies have shown that food can light up the same areas of the brain that react in drug addiction. That means that serious thought and planning must go into combating these habits. Sugar actually occupies the opioid receptors in the brain, causing the same type of addiction as illegal drugs.
Last, and certainly not least is your environment. This can cover a wide variety of variables. Who you are spending time with? Where you are located? What kinds of events are taking place?
Some people find public situations highly stressful. Others may find alone time to be stressful. Overeating often takes place when the subject is alone, but every case is different.
One very effective way to find out the what, where, and when of emotional eating is to begin a process of keeping a journal. Much of the drives to engage in emotional eating are subconscious. So keeping a journal will be a powerful tool in discovering circumstances or experiences that lead to your emotional eating. It enables and empowers you to take an honest look at your triggering factors. Recording this information can expose a pattern. That alone could help you overcome the difficult habit of emotional eating.
Write down every time you decide to eat. During the note taking, document details of the events by asking yourself questions. How hungry were you on a scale of 1 – 10? Where were you when the eating took place. Were you at work, school, home or out in public? Were you with friends, loved ones, coworkers or alone? You might be surprised to find that subtle, yet visible patterns emerge.
Take some time taking notes, compiling information, and asking yourself key questions. You may find what some of the major triggering events might be. If you were less than a 6 in hunger, and cravings appear during specific situations, you could be stress eating.
One of the easiest ways to quit almost any habit is to simply replace the unhealthy behavior with healthy behavior. For example, you can keep healthy, low calorie snacks like almonds handy. Teas are also available that contain nutrients that help curb hunger, and aid metabolic function. Black tea (among others) is known to lower stress hormones by nearly half during consumption.
Alternatively, exercise and deep breathing can be very effective in managing stress in the moment. Or even at the end of your day. Shallow breathing has been found to increase stress in the body. So taking a moment to breathe mindfully can be very beneficial. Exercise and breathing go hand in hand. So a healthy regimen can go a long way to putting you on the path to success.
Educate Yourself on the Habits Cycle and How to Rewire Your Brain
My last piece of advice is to educate yourself on HOW habits work, and how to rewire your brain. It can totally be done, whether you have a bad habit already, or need to instill good habits. I offer a totally FREE course called What Good Mothers Do that is centered around the idea that as Moms, we have to take care of ourselves FIRST so we can care for our families at our best.
Part of the curriculum involves learning how to reduce stress by MANAGING the things that are chaos in your life. And part of that falls into the HABITS category. There’s an entire unit on habits alone. How to recognize your habits, break them down, and figure out how to rewire your brain to fix bad habits, and instill good ones.
Sign up by clicking the image below:
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